D-backs Prospect Primer: Sweet Jazz

Arizona's top prospect pointing the way after breakout 2018

Jazz Chisholm homered a career-high 25 times in 112 games across two levels in 2018. (Jerry Klime/MiLB.com)

By Michael Avallone / MiLB.com | March 19, 2019 10:00 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2019 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Shining star: Jazz Chisholm, SS

Much has changed in the last year for Chisholm, who made this list in 2018 but for different reasons. Coming off an injury-riddled 2017 campaign in which he played in just 29 games due to a knee injury, Arizona's top prospect vaulted up the charts with an All-Star season in 2018. The 21-year-old set career highs across the board last year, batting .272/.329/.513 with 54 extra-base hits -- including 25 homers -- 70 RBIs and 79 runs scored in 112 games across two Minor League levels. That success carried over to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted an eye-popping .442 in 10 games. 

Although he had little trouble adjusting to the Class A Advanced California League, where he hit .329/.369/.597 in 36 games, MLB.com's No. 60 overall prospect will most likely begin 2019 back in Visalia. Having turned 21 in February, there is little reason to rush him up to Double-A, and even less reason to doubt one of the more exciting middle infielders in the Minors.

Video: Rawhide's Chisholm drills second homer of year

"He's just a very talented and exciting player," Arizona vice president of player development Mike Bell said. "Nothing he's done so far or will do will surprise us. It comes down to getting the opportunities to succeed, staying consistent with his work and making the adjustment. He's got all the tools to be a good one."

Back and healthy: Jon Duplantier, RHP

In an ironic twist, the top two prospects in the organization flip-flopped categories from a year ago. Not that the No. 73 overall prospect in baseball had a down year, but Duplantier was limited to 74 innings in 16 starts last year with Double-A Jackson and two rehab appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League. The right-hander missed more than a month with inflammation in his pitching arm but went 5-1 with a 2.69 ERA and 68 strikeouts over 67 innings for Double-A Jackson. 

But there lies the rub for Duplantier, who has faced injury concerns since his collegiate days at Rice. Armed with a plus fastball, curve and slider, the 24-year-old has won 17 of 21 decisions to go along with a 1.79 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211 professional innings since being drafted in the third round in 2016. Assuming he remains healthy, the D-backs fully expect another strong season from their top pitching prospect, who was invited to big league camp and made one scoreless appearance in the Cactus League. The bet here says Duplantier begins the year with Triple-A Reno, despite pitching roughly a half season with Double-A Jackson in 2018.

Breakout prospect: Daulton Varsho, C

Like Duplantier, Varsho finds himself in this category based on the simple fact that injuries kept his breakout from happening a year ago. As it was, the son of former Major Leaguer Gary Varsho showed himself to be a quality prospect at the dish as well as behind it. The backstop was hitting .290/.377/.467 with eight homers over 57 games and had just been named a California League midseason All-Star when he broke the hamate bone in his right hand. The injury cost him six weeks of the season and developmental time, but it did not cost him in the eyes of evaluators. 

Offseason MiLB include

The 22-year-old hit the ground running during his rehab assignment in the Arizona League when he hit for the cycle on Aug. 1. Although his power was slower to return, as is customary with a hamate injury, he finished the regular season with a .286/.363/.451 slash line and 11 homers in 80 games for Visalia. Varsho brings an added element to his game that few catchers possess -- speed. The Wisconsin native stole 19 bases in 22 opportunities last year. No Major League catcher has swiped as many as 12 bags in a single season since J.T. Realmuto in 2016. That athleticism has started chatter in some circles about moving Varsho to another position, notably the outfield, but for now he'll remain behind the plate, where he threw out nearly 40 percent of attempted basestealers in 2018.

"Daulton's a very mature and disciplined player," Bell explained. "He knows what he wants out of the game, and that's a big plus from a young player. We've had him in big league camp with us and he's shown what he can do [hitting .417 in eight games]. We've liked the progress he's made since turning pro, and we're excited what the future holds for him."

Major League-ready: Taylor Clarke, RHP

The 25-year-old's debut will have to wait after he was reassigned to Minor League camp on March 12, but his time is near. The D-backs' 10th-ranked prospect won a career-high 13 games and posted a 4.03 ERA in 27 starts with Reno last season. It marked the third consecutive year Clarke had garnered 12 or more victories after going winless across relief appearances during his professional debut in 2016. 

Video: Reno's Clarke collects his fifth strikeout

Although not a huge strikeout guy, the Virginia native is well-rounded enough to have put together a 1.19 career WHIP thanks in large part to command within the strike zone. Clarke has also shown the ability to limit the long ball, surrendering 40 across 467 1/3 professional innings. Barring injury, it's a virtual guarantee the right-hander will don a D-backs uniform at some point in 2019, and it's likely he'll be one of, if not the first pitcher the club calls for when needed.

Full-season debutant: Jake McCarthy, OF

When Arizona selected McCarthy with the 39th overall pick in last year's Draft, they did so with a notion that he'd be a quick mover in the organization. After a standout career at the University of Virginia, the 21-year-old impressed in his pro debut with the AZL D-backs and Class A Short Season Hillsboro. Overall, McCarthy batted .288/.375/.443 with 24 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases in 58 games in 2018. McCarthy's speed and instincts on defense portend a stay in center field, where he already profiles as an above-average defender.

Based on his age, experience in college and his strong debut, McCarthy will likely begin the year with Class A Kane County in the Midwest League, where he'll have the chance to show his tools over a full season of work.

"We just want to see more of what we did last year," Bell said. "He's a good center fielder and an exceptional baserunner. His ability to get on base plays well with his speed and makes him a viable option at the top of a lineup. There's a lot to like with Jake, and we fully expect to see a continuation of his success from 2018."

Others to keep an eye on:

Right-hander Taylor Widener built on a successful 2017 with an All-Star season last year. The 24-year-old posted a 2.75 ERA and led all D-backs pitchers with a Southern League-best 176 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings. ... Marcus Wilson finds himself nearing a potential crossroads in a career that began in 2014. Although just 22, he struggled with Visalia last season and needs a solid campaign to keep himself on Arizona's prospect map. ... Obtained in the offseason deal that sent All-Star Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis, Andy Young will look to impress his new club while building off a career year that saw the 24-year-old hit .289/.379/.479 with 21 homers across two levels in 2018. 

2019 organization predictions:

Most home runs: Jamie Westbrook
Most stolen bases: McCarthy
Most strikeouts: Widener
Current prospect to get most Major League playing time: Kevin Cron
Non-Top-100 prospect to end 2019 in the Top 100: Varsho

Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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